Ivan Brajovic, the spokesperson of Montenegro’s Parliament, has released the date for Montenegro’s next presidential election. Should we see a given candidate score above the 50% threshold of the first-round vote, April 15 would become the only day when voters can cast their ballot. Since incumbent president Filip Vujanovic is no longer eligible to run because of his two consecutive five-year terms since the independence of Montenegro, the pool of candidates has expanded beyond the usual subscribers.
Pursuant to the poll released by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) in partnership with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division—Engagement Section, it becomes apparent that veteran politician Milo Djukanovic is poised to play what has yet to become the most grandiose role of his life—the role of the president.
One might be quick to acknowledge that the person who has historically been the honorable leader of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has also served unabated as either president or prime minister for 25 years consecutively. This makes the whole argument about Djukanovic’s potential presidential term as a watershed development invalid. Or, does it?
Given the context Montenegro has etched for itself with its recent NATO membership and EU candidate country status, it wouldn’t be coloring outside the lines claiming that Milo Djukanovic’s crowning in the Presidential seat essentially represents a turning point in Montenegro’s history as a young nation.
Montenegro’s political system is a merger between a mixed parliamentary and a presidential system in which both institutions are elected by [popular?] vote. As a background, the parliamentary elections of 2016—in which DPS won and formed a government in partnership with the Social Democrats and few other minority parties—saw the lynchpin of the party’s formal retirement with the taking over of the position and adjacent responsibilities by Dusko Markovic, current PM. A parliamentary boycott soon followed suit as allegations of irregularities in the election process (including a potential Russian influence of the coup on October 16) began flying around. Notwithstanding the political tension, Montenegro managed to join NATO in June 2017.
The voting can start as long as “all citizens who are 18 years or older by election day, have permanent residence in Montenegro for at least 24 months prior to election day, and who have not been declared mentally incapacitated by a court” are awarded the right to vote. According to the Constitution, the Law on Election of the President, and the Law on Election of Councilors and Representatives (i.e. election law), the voting should conclude with the election of a president elected by popular vote for a five-year term who can serve no more than two consecutive terms. Facilities for the 534,135 voters included in the register (kept under lock by the Ministry of Interior) are provided by the State Election Commission (SEC) with the help of 21 Municipal Election Commissions (MECs) and over 1,100 Polling Boards (PBs), which make sure the election process keeps in line with international good practice and avoids voter complaints to the Administrative Court.
Going beyond the realm of the voter and the voter facilitators, the real stars of the show are the candidates. According to Article 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), all candidates—nominated by either a party or a citizen group—are under the obligation to raise at least 7,993 votes from the registered electorate (for Montenegro) which amounts to 1.5%. March 26 marks the deadline by which parties can send in their propositions to the SEC.
In the eventuality CEDEM’s forecasting pans out, it all boils down to the battle between Milo Djukanovic from the ruling coalition led by DPS and Aleksa Becic, the leader of the opposition Democratic Montenegro party. The former managed to get 39.7% of the electorate on his side while the latter is looking at the merely tokenistic 30.1%. With this in mind—and with PM’s Dusko Markovic’s unequivocal prediction for the election results in favor of his colleague Djukanovic—it is hard to imagine that people in Podgorica’s central square will be cheering to any other final election result.
In the same vein, the claims surrounding Montenegro’s economic growth and its NATO membership as a cornerstone to that achievement, give local citizens and the international community the confidence that the status quo needs to be preserved by a pro-Western president. That is to say, while the recent NATO membership and the EU candidate country status assemble Montenegro’s unprecedented standing on the global stage, representing something that the new president would simply receive as legacy, it is equally true that this situation denotes newness for Djukanovic. It would give him the chance to dive right into the opportunity honeypot that both NATO and the EU have to offer. It could just as much refashion the current status quo that Montenegrins are so fond of. Either way, this new election cycle is a variation on a theme, bearing in mind the variation is accompanied by various unknowns and geopolitical dangers and the theme is a hard-fought illusive belonging which cannot be gambled with.
About the author: Alina Toporas is a Communications Assistant at the British Embassy in Bucharest where she is currently working to deliver messages on Brexit. She has previously worked for the European Commission in Scotland and the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA). As a Masters graduate in Global Crime, Justice and Security from the University of Edinburgh Law School, she is interested in NATO, the UNODC and the EU-UK cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs. As a side job, she observes elections focusing on the security implications of the vote.